Lightning strikes near 13th green at Edgewood |

Lightning strikes near 13th green at Edgewood

Darin Olde and Steve Yingling, Tribune sports staff

While celebrities and the biggest stars in professional sports patiently waiting to resume tournament play at the clubhouse bar Thursday, lightning struck a tree next to the 13th green and on the 10th fairway at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, electrocuting a small bird.

And that was all she wrote for the American Century Celebrity-Am.

Tournament officials canceled the event at 2:30 p.m. for only the second time in the tournament’s 13-year history.

The horn blew around 11:30 a.m., stopping play with the final morning group on the sixth hole. Half the field never teed off.

Plans were to start a nine-hole scramble at 3 p.m., but with with lightning lingering in the area and spectators and players’ safety an issue, NBC Sports and title sponsor American Century decided to call it off.

“It was a judgment call. In cases like this, you either look like geniuses or idiots, and I’m sure there’s some people over at Caesars right now that think we’re idiots,” said tournament director Mike Milthorpe late Thursday afternoon after the rain stopped and sunshine reappeared. “We couldn’t take a chance with the spectators out there, so we decided it was best for everyone to call it.”

“We know deep down that these are the days that make this tournament what it is,” said former NFL place-kicker Al Del Greco. “The sponsors, the people who pay to play in the pro-am, that’s what makes the tournament work … all the money they’ve put in. You like to give them a good day when it’s their turn to play, so I’m really disappointed for them, especially the people who didn’t get to play at all.”

Admissions tickets from Thursday will be honored today, the first day of the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship.

But that won’t bring back the opportunity for many amateurs who were supposed to play Thursday.

“You know who I was playing with? George Brett,” said Mark Shehadi, a South Lake Tahoe resident who was scheduled to play at 12:35 p.m.

“I’m totally bummed,” Shehadi said. “He is the greatest guy in the world.”

“It’s kind of tough because you want to see the amateurs that came out to play with the celebrities get that chance, even if it is for nine holes, but it just didn’t work out,” said Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course Head Professional Randy Fox.

The lingering thundershowers also reduced the celebrities’ tournament preparation the past two days.

“Obviously I would have liked to have played again (Thursday) and didn’t get to play all the holes (Wednesday) because of rain, but there are a lot of other guys who didn’t get a chance either,” said Del Greco, the 2000 champion.

Championship tournament play is scheduled to begin today at 8:50 a.m., back 20 minutes from the original time.

ESPN will televise the event today starting at 1 p.m.

“Based on an optimistic forecast, (Edgewood’s ground crew) believes the course will be in fine shape,” said Kevin Monaghan, vice president of business development at NBC sports.

Edgewood staff expressed mild concern Wednesday that rain would soften the greens.

Thursday marked the second straight day of rain.

“I think most of the players would prefer a firmer golf course because your drives will roll further and that sort of thing,” Fox said. “It should dry out, though, and I think if we don’t have any more weather the course will be fine.”

If thunderstorms continue to roll into the Tahoe Basin during the weekend, Fox believes tournament play will continue into the evening, if necessary.

“I think they would hang out as late as 5 or 6 o’clock to finish the round,” he said. “The thundershowers typically happen late in the afternoon. Today it started at 11 o’clock, so that’s kind of unusual.

“The round should be completed by 3 or 3:30, so, hopefully, we can get it in before anything happens.”

Lightning that struck a tree near the 13th green broke branches, electrocuted a bird, and littered the green with bark, witnesses said.

The course was essentially unharmed.

“It cooked a bird,” said John Miller, a representative from NBC, who saw the bolt hit.

“We’re very fortunate that no one got hurt,” Milthorpe said.

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